Not For Profit

by Barry Drogin

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Dear Tobie,

Your proposed Ph.D. topic on contrasting the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors is quite intriguing. I would guess that, in a gross way, both social forms are very similar: the for-profit workplace expects results in which the influx of money is greater than the outflux of money, but most attention is paid to conditions of the workplace, career advancement, and professional integrity; the not-for-profit workplace expects results in which the outflux of money is met by the influx of money, but most attention is paid to conditions of the workplace, career advancement, and professional integrity. When a for-profit or not-for-profit institution does not meet its goals, it is a business loss or a deficit, and the CEO could lose his job; when a for-profit or not- for-profit institution exceeds its goals, it is a very good year or an increase in endowment, and the CEO may get a raise.

I suppose you will be studying the different cultures, although I doubt seriously that all for-profit institutions are similar enough to each other to form similar observable group behavior, in opposition to some behavior of not-for-profit institutions. I have worked for the government, in academia, and in small and large industrial companies; I have seen laziness, industriousness, motivation, futility, idealism and dishonesty in all settings. The major difference is that not-for-profit institutions pay less, so its employees find rationalizations for working there; one could make a similar argument that for-profit institutions pay too much, and this is rationalized as compensation for accepting the institution's goals. In the first case, the rationalizations are either more personal or more socially acceptable; in the second case, the institution's goals are perceived as socially unacceptable or embarrassing. Thus the assumption that the activities performed within the not-for-profit institution are "good" and those within the for-profit are "bad," even if the activities are identical.

I feel that if society ascribes more worth to the not-for- profit institution's goals, then it should attach more of its unit of measure of worth, money, to it, which would make it a for-profit institution that is more profitable than the previous for-profit institutions. Therefore, I have always held that I am a for-profit artist, who wishes to be properly compensated for my output. If I do not insist on it, no one will insist on it for me.

I moved in my career from for-profit to not-for-profit back to for-profit. The fault lies in the not-for-profit institution's unwillingness to see itself as a for-profit institution, and thus to hold back on certain tactics it considers unethical, which would make it profitable. Or perhaps the fault lies in the for-profit institution's ability to engage in unethical tactics and get away with it. What do you think?

I do not think sociology is a science, and I have enclosed some quotes from sociologists themselves which explain why. Some sociologists have been a force for social change, however. I think they are most useful when they point out (or imply with irony) how a given social institution violates stated goals and ethics of the society, as in Veblen's "The Theory of the Leisure Class" and Goffman's "Asylums."

I have also enclosed some passages from previous writings of mine which I think touch on your topic of for-profit vs. not-for- profit. I assume you are much deeper into this topic than I am, and could tell me a thing or two. Nevertheless, if I can help in any way, either through descriptions of my own experiences, or through connecting you with friends in academia, government, or art, please feel free to ask.

Please do not think I have gone to an excess of effort on your behalf --- I simply printed out some material I already had written. This letter, which I thought up as I wrote it, is the extent of my efforts on your behalf so far. I sometimes feel that people must think I have become obsessed with them just because I tossed off something that they think must have taken hours or days, and so they get scared off. Still, I would greatly appreciate any comments you may have.

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Cassandra's Curse 1993, 1996, 2007

Last Updated: August 4, 2007